This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
51] On: 25 August 2011, At: 17:27 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Women's History Review
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rwhr20
Mojave mirages: gender and performance in Las Vegas
Joanne L. Goodwin
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA
Available online: 20 Dec 2006
To cite this article: Joanne L. Goodwin (2002): Mojave mirages: gender and performance in Las Vegas, Women's History Review, 11:1, 115-132 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09612020200200313
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
People around the world know Las Vegas for its famous ‘strip’ and the luxury hotel-casinos that line both sides of old Highway 91. Lucrative jobs in wartime industries followed by the post-war tourist economy gave women opportunities to earn more money than they could ‘back home. magicians. Las Vegas means many different things. Las Vegas. It is the fantasy state-ofmind that the tourist industry creates and recreates.144. and leisure. the article explores why women came to Las Vegas and stayed and how they. to dream. consumption. and realities through a series of personal observations on gender and performance in Las Vegas. and other services. 2002 Mojave Mirages: gender and performance in Las Vegas JOANNE L. play out their fantasies in its public theater. it was ‘the meadows. like many visitors to the city. Illusionists. unwittingly helping casino owners amass remarkable fortunes as well as supporting the state’s schools. Millions of tourists flock to these properties every year to partake in the gaming industry’s spectacle of fantasy. The tourists enact their own performances of wealth. and performers of all types entertain the visitors. to relax. USA Downloaded by [86.241. Volume 11. Visitors. In the public’s imagination. and gender as they move within and between the monumental theme-styled casinos. sexuality.Women’s History Review. perception. They leave their money behind. To those who traveled through this part of the Mojave Desert before gamblers attracted the world’s attention. Las Vegas is the set upon which to take a new identity. GOODWIN University of Nevada. with their vision impaired by the lights and illusions. Number 1. often ask Las Vegans.’ an oasis created by the valley’s springs and the place used by 115 . It is an oddly shaped political entity that covers the original section of the city as well as newer master-planned communities. experience. parks.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 ABSTRACT The article explores the permeable boundaries between image.’ A work in progress. The author’s observations on this resort destination in the middle of the Mojave Desert are mingled with the narratives of women who came to the area during and after World War II. ‘Does anyone really live in Las Vegas?’ For those of us who do live here.
when people say ‘Las Vegas.’ they refer to the red desert basin ringed by mountains and situated on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert. the Las Vegas valley has attracted people chasing jobs as well as those chasing dreams for decades.’ My definition begins with the premise that we understand ourselves and our communities through signs. Despite the differences in our images and their meanings. and pioneers to take water and to rest. This usage – to perform to the best of one’s ability. experience. I have attempted to avoid the hackneyed caricatures of women and Las Vegas and to examine. and housekeepers. this article incorporates a literal definition of performance as enacted in the lived experience of women workers. Downloaded by [86. It presents my thoughts along the way rather than my findings from an empirical project. symbols and images. symbols and images that visitors bring to the city and play out in its public theater. At the same time. As such. the signs. clerks.’ Las Vegas’s self-appropriated title as the ‘entertainment capital of the world’ makes it essential that I clarify my use of the term ‘performance. perception. This article explores the permeable boundaries between image.144. Lucrative jobs in wartime industries followed by the post-war tourist economy brought women and men to Las Vegas during the 1940s and 1950s. the gambling and entertainment industries literally and figuratively used women’s bodies as attractions in the showrooms and as advertising for the resort city. The exchange between actor and observer becomes the site upon which shared or contested meanings compete and create our cultural reference points. which in fact comprises several cities and unincorporated areas of Clark County. The choices made by these women offer a new slant on women’s lives during an era previously referred to as the ‘Age of Cold War Domesticity’ in a place that we know as ‘Sin City. Today. Our perception and interpretation of those images constitutes that which we share or contest with one another. This article is a work in progress. but those ideas and actions become dynamic when another responds to them. waitresses. instead. Mormon missionaries.Joanne L. Performance in that context consists of interactions. Women. and realities through a series of personal observations on gender and performance in Las Vegas.’ They worked as cashiers. resources and opportunities – includes the material realities of women who came to Las Vegas during or shortly after World War II. based as they are on personal recollections and others’ memories. whether single or with families. had opportunities to earn more money than they could ‘back home. Lastly. Goodwin Paiute Indians. the ideas are largely hypothetical. Spanish explorers. An individual conceives of and enacts gender and sexuality.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 116 . My own observations on this place are mingled with the narratives of women who came to the area during and after World War II.241.
’ ‘resort fun in the sun. During my first year in Las Vegas. and live music performances. Stories of Frank Sinatra and other ‘Rat Pack’ members playing and dealing cards elbow to elbow with customers are legendary. made a lion disappear on stage. but I wondered why such a talent would be content to copy. having lived in areas with diverse cultural venues. and the obelisk of Luxor all in one American city. and Michael Jackson). In a manner similar to the magic cape in a child’s fairy tale.241. New York.’ City boosters changed the public relations spin as frequently as casino owners changed their properties’ façades. Bellagio.144. Venice. It creates the context for impossible possibilities and extraordinary occurrences. magic or impersonation. They were in fact remarkably good impersonators of film or music celebrities (Judy Garland.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 117 . theater. and the beautiful.’ ‘entertainment capital of the world. Madonna. The popularity of illusionist entertainment reflects the appeal of Las Vegas itself. Blurring the boundaries between perception and reality became one of the great attractions of Las Vegas in the years between 1945 and 1965 as stage performers entered the casinos after their shows to mix and gamble with the guests. I am told. Casinos bring the world’s treasures to the Mojave Desert. During the 1940s and 1950s. I found it curious that a significant portion of showroom entertainment included illusion. Visitors may visit Paris. I took my mother to a show that boasted the best impersonators of entertainment personalities. casino publicists and city business interests shaped the fantasies that we identify with Las Vegas today: the ‘last frontier. The popularity of this genre surprised me. The most popular long-running show (and the most expensive ticket) was that of two illusionists who. It offers the visitor the chance to step out of the commonplace and step into the spectacle. Elvis. The performers have talent and have found reasonable jobs. but also they might gamble alongside the rich. Within months of my arrival. The illusion continues upon arrival to the city today. the fantastic reinterpretations of the world’s cultural landmarks seduce visitors with an illusion that they happily embrace. the famous. Women who worked as dancers at some properties were contractually obligated to blur the boundaries. Magicians and character impersonators have long-term engagements in casino showrooms. Their contracts required that they ‘mix’ with the public in Downloaded by [86. ‘I don’t need to go to New York City now.’ and ‘a vacation with something for everyone. It is not a matter of authenticity or originality.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Illusions: things are not as they appear Most of what the general public knows about Las Vegas comes out of the imagination of writers who use the city as a canvas for their own interpretations of twentieth-century life. I have since revised my thinking.’ residents and visitors have been heard to say. Not only could the tourist-gamblers win a fortune for a lifetime.
 The illusion of availability. as we entered the showroom and found it filling up rapidly with men in ten-gallon hats. Unlike the target audience in New York City. I wasn’t particularly interested in the show’s genre. I imagine the cowboys did too. but anything goes in Las Vegas. The fantastic is expected here. I imagine that the rodeo patrons wondered who was what. we called this form of entertainment drag shows. Le Cage. They want to see pretty faces. I went with a few loyal and curious friends. after all. As one dancer recounted in her oral history. cultivated in the showroom performances particularly by showgirls. but it had the added dimension of an all-male cast. the owners wanted them ‘to dress up’ the casino and mingle with the customers: They want to see pretty girls hanging around the hotel. the casino showroom production played to a general audience. But you do have to get dressed and go out there and sit in the bar . if you don’t want to. There’s security guards all over there. On the pretense of conducting cultural research. anyone could buy a ticket and take a chance. neither avant garde nor gay. My scrutiny for signs of a concealed male body in the female persona rapidly ended as I fell into the theater of the piece. but I did find the long engagements of these shows intriguing. In Las Vegas.Joanne L. They were popular.. The National Finals Rodeo was in town and those rodeo fans had bought their tickets. Would they throw things at the stage? Would they leave the showroom in a protest of affronted masculinity? These questions played in my mind as I took my seat at the too small table reserved for guests. like the magicians and other illusionists. a remnant from burlesque. however. Goodwin between the shows. they just wanted pretty girls to wander around. The dramatic potential that I anticipated remained only in my mind.144. A different aspect of illusion and performance emerges from accounts of African-American performers and workers in the years before integration. moved out of the virtual realm of entertainment into the physical realm of the hotel-casino with the mixing rules. Men impersonated women by enacting their own ideas about female characteristics.241. This show. You don’t have to talk to anybody. Yes. You certainly don’t have to take any guff off of anybody. The research took a dramatic turn.. provided another. as the show began. An exaggerated parody in another act.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 . not only featured performers pretending to be famous entertainers. they enjoyed what Las Vegas offered. but while in Las Vegas. I wondered if they knew what they would see. 118 Downloaded by [86. the local rodeo back home would be an unlikely forum for the cross-dressing actors of Le Cage. at least within my mind. This appreciative reception might not happen in Abilene or Cheyenne. I experienced another version of the ‘look but don’t touch’ illusion at a second show of character impersonators. That was one of the attractions of the show. In New York City. A dancer’s awkwardness in high heels provided one of the few transgender signs.
showroom entertainment. and abundance. By doing so. . . a city of fantastic fabrications.. after all. The bride’s long formal train. you headed right on back over here [the West Side]. found accommodation in boarding houses in the predominately black West Side of Las Vegas. I stepped back to avoid them and became an observer for an instant. The bride had exchanged her heels for tennis shoes. I was rushing to meet out-of-town guests on the Las Vegas strip when.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Dozens of stories about de facto segregation share the same details. as well as the groom’s tuxedo.241. Within a few months of moving to Las Vegas. they obscured race relations in cold war Las Vegas and maintained separate communities and separate lives.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 The hotel-casinos maintained the appearances of a smooth tourist operation. organized to meet their visitors’ every need from entertainment to housekeeping. prohibited from staying or eating in the same hotels in which they performed. sex. You didn’t go down there and go into those casinos or do anything. You were only allowed there for washing dishes and making beds. so we just came on back over here and had our fun over here. a bride and groom in full wedding attire burst past as part of the crowd. Downloaded by [86.144.’ One woman who came to Las Vegas in 1953 and began to work in housekeeping described the social relations between blacks and whites during the 1950s as similar to the South: It was like an understood thing. they thought. It is. or fabulous shopping.. They come to see the spectacle. worked in the invisible part of the hotel. beaded bodice and net veil. Huffing and 119 . no longer conveyed the sense of perfection intended for the chapel. perhaps unaware of their own role in it. but Las Vegas brings it together. a tourist destination that capitalizes on dreams of wealth. Similarly. who were predominately African-American. suddenly. Performance in Everyday Life This city invites performance from its visitors. The groom perspired heavily from his exertions.. African-American entertainers.. When you got through working. whatever your job was and then you came on back over here where you belonged. I saw my first street performance. a throng of people came down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. You knew what you were supposed to do. You were not allowed in there [casinos]. Other places have gambling. indulgence. unique because this is the place where it all exists. At that moment. These acts make Las Vegas unique to and emblematic of the American culture. Tourists come to Las Vegas to submerge themselves in their fantasies and to act them out upon the streets and casino floors. only the individual actors change. the service workers of the hotel-casinos during the 1940s and 1950s. leisure. the part referred to as ‘the back of the house.
I saw them as an updated version of film stars in a European casino. I thought. but it was one in which the actors remained entirely oblivious to their audience. They had several towers of chips in front of them. one designed to attract the truly wealthy as well as the ‘wannabes. including that of the gambling goddess. No pain. ‘Twentythree’ the dealer called as he swept all the losing bets aside. only two out of so many possibilities. but the minimum bid was too high. What did it mean to them to lose so much. the cameras or artistic entourage. My attention fell upon a stunning couple. swept aside and credited to the house. expensively dressed. They played their parts elegantly. I gasped at her loss. Residents also engage in the Downloaded by [86. I wondered about the money already invested by them in this game. Some players sprinkled their chips liberally over the numbers before the dealer began to spin the wheel and drop the little silver ball that would make or break that round of play. I looked for signs of the performance artist. I felt comfortable with my own assessment. No surprise.241. stomping and sweating. or the social critique of marriage in ‘Sin City’ with its multifaceted possibilities. they merged with the crowd on the boulevard. Still fresh from graduate school and an annual salary that was approximately the cost of the woman’s necklace. Tourists are not alone in performing their ideas of gender and class. I do mean towers.’ We stopped near a table. I had definitely seen my first performance art in the entertainment capital. She bet what I estimated to be a graduate student’s salary for a month – one large and one medium chip tower.Joanne L. so we watched the players for a while. who also lost that round. yet appear to care so little? What did it mean to enjoy that much risk with such apparent lack of regard for their loss? What did they intend to convey with their placid demeanors? Although I will never know what they thought of that evening. coifed and practiced in their every move. None existed.144. The gorgeous couple wanted me to see that they not only possessed wealth sufficient to play. No disappointment creased her face. The wheel turned again as her money rode on two numbers. to be counted and stacked for future play. as the ball found its notch on the wheel. My eyes turned rapidly toward her to witness her expression. But she showed none. My guest wanted to play roulette so we strolled through the newest mega-resort at the time. unlike others around the gaming tables in tee shirts and sneakers. but wealth sufficient to lose badly and not care. The strangeness of that scene overtook me.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 120 . continued to smile and talk pleasantly with one another. She and her partner. A second memorable performance occurred during another trip to the strip with out-of-town company. They just do it with such self-conscious flair. All the bets. Goodwin puffing. words like ‘gracious’ or ‘mannered’ might describe the two. but on the casino floor. In another setting. She must be a pro to take such risks.
but the majority that I see at the airport. and back-breaking high-heeled shoes. old or young act out their ideas of gender in public and private places. Jobs outside the margins of respectability often provide women with wages that would be unimaginable in traditional fields of employment. in the southern part of France. Bowles contrasts the conventional image of a virtuous life expected of her with the reality of her modern life as a dancer in a 1930s German cabaret. elaborate makeup. ‘Honey. more than any other American city except Hollywood. and the promotion of every sort of indulgence trained the American and international public to think ‘girls. Sally Bowles did not go to the German cabaret to break conventions. They assert. girls’ when they imagined Las Vegas. the hyper-femme outfits herself as if to scream.241. highly decorated nails. their costume. Although the style is not indigenous to Las Vegas. One can find variations of the hyper-femme in every income group. casinos. Legalized prostitution in Nevada helped to promote the sexualized image. Las Vegas. The trailer-housed brothels that gave Sin City 121 . Men with men. showrooms. girls. entertainment venues. Mama doesn’t even have an inkling that I’m working in a nightclub in a lacey pair of pants. assuage.144. has used the female body to shape its identity. hyper-femme women feel comfortable in this city of artifice. manipulate. or empower themselves through their actions. men and women.’ I’ve given considerable thought to this particular persona. I have a favorite gender persona that I have named ‘hyper-femme. She went for the prospects of a well-paying job and adventure. even though Las Vegas and Clark County officially prohibit prostitution. a secluded little convent. Performing Gender in Post-war Las Vegas Mama thinks I’m living in a convent. or evening attire. I just love being a girl. leather coats. Cabaret) The character of American-born Sally Bowles in Cabaret describes a predicament shared by her countrywomen throughout the twentieth century. grocery store.’ The style is characterized by its exaggeration of form: big hair. (Sally Bowles. Sequins are a vital element. or Cineplex do not let discretionary income influence or restrain their enthusiasm. whether they adorn sweatshirts. the hyper-femme and the female impersonator have more in common with each other than with me. and the meanings they attach to them. persuade. and casino floors of post-war Las Vegas held similar attractions. women with women.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 small daily acts that together express their own identity. In fact.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Downloaded by [86. If a hyper-femme and I were stuck in an elevator together. I expect that we would have the same question about each other: why would a woman choose to look like that? I have concluded that at least in the area of dress and their performance of gender. The casinos’ public relations offices. The lounges.
Goodwin a part of its fame exist in remote areas of the state. what it meant to women who worked in Las Vegas. ‘gentlemen’s clubs. Las Vegas is unique in the carefully constructed image of women used historically to promote the area as a tourist destination. For over thirty years. brothel prostitution has been outrun in popularity and profits by virtual sex venues such as stripper bars. Women’s bodies are most visibly appropriated in sex work. However. and the liberties mythically associated with wide-open western spaces. but that is not unique to Las Vegas. Last Frontier Hotel and Casino dancing girls. all of which provide the fantasy without the risk of sexually transmitted disease. The remainder of this article offers some preliminary observations on the evolution of the image. More important. Photograph courtesy of the Manis Collection. in the media. Hotel architecture departed from the earlier mission-style buildings 122 .241.144. UNLV Special Collections.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 1. conquest. 1945. The earliest hotel-casinos built on the old Los Angeles highway (known to the world as ‘the strip’) combined the imagery of the Wild West.Joanne L. and what it symbolized to Americans who flocked to the newest post-war vacation destination. and in the marketplace. feminists have discussed and debated the commercialization of women’s bodies throughout the culture. Downloaded by [86.’ and cyber-sex.
Images of service workers performing in their daily life and jobs are uncommon. modeled on ideas about Parisian revues. used the motto. Many came to Las Vegas for the fun.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS used by other southwestern hoteliers. the work. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Noreen McClintock.’ to attract business. Several grew up in nearby Los Angeles. Cocktail waitress in costume at the Last Frontier Hotel and Casino.144. 123 . The idea of working in a party town appealed to several of our interviewees. The Last Frontier Hotel and Casino. which opened on the Strip in late 1942. Similarly. Cancan dancers. Downloaded by [86.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 2. Desert Inn food servers were included in the first anniversary celebration of the hotel-casino. performed in the showroom while cocktail servers worked their shifts dressed as cowgirls (Figures 1 and 2). studied dance as teenagers or entered beauty contests of the era. ‘the early west in modern splendor.241. and the great tips. it did not emphasize the indigenous cultures of southwestern Indians to attract tourists. yet these photographs offer such a rare view.
144. Downloaded by [86. In Figure 4. service workers at the El Rancho Vegas as they turn the tables on class roles and ‘perform’ as showroom entertainers in this 1950s photograph. they play to the camera.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 3. or that they are ‘props’ of the celebration. Figure 4. 124 .Joanne L. 1951.241. UNLV Special Collections. Servers as performers at El Rancho Vegas. but are they showing they have finished their work serving the cake. Desert Inn waitresses survey ‘ruins’ of the cake at the First Anniversary Party. Photograph courtesy of Margaret Price. Photograph courtesy of the Wilbur Clark Collection. Goodwin In Figure 3.
but as all-American resorts with something for everyone. resort owners democratized their attractions to anyone who was white and could pay.241. the wartime pin-up and the movie starlet.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 5. In the 1950s. and the Desert Inn expanded their Hollywood connections to bring in entertainers as well as patrons. The image for this gambling Mecca during the 1940s and 1950s had to be fun and exciting. The image followed in the footsteps of famous predecessors. Within the context of American postwar supremacy and heralding the superior advantages of capitalism over communism. Sahara. 1950. Like those earlier images. publicists used the image of the innocent glamour girl to attract visitors to the city.144. yet attractive and safe. these desert resorts were not intended as exclusive retreats for the glitterati. c.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS As the USA emerged from World War II a global superpower. a few Las Vegas promoters cultivated a new image for their new properties: one of glamour. the glamour 125 . As Figure 5 illustrates. Photograph courtesy of Margaret Price. El Rancho Vegas chorines with servicemen. and Stardust continued to project glamour and luxury at affordable prices. Dunes. the Thunderbird. Resorts like the Flamingo. newer properties like the Sands. Before the topless shows carrying French names became identified with Las Vegas entertainment. Downloaded by [86. wealth and power.
magazines. the style of publicity shots for the Moulin Rouge used the same standard glamour girl poses (Figure 6).Joanne L.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 6. it created opportunities for professional dancers. The manufactured image of the post-war ‘all-American’ girl combined nationalism. young. Instead. Downloaded by [86. Moulin Rouge showgirl relaxes at the pool. and attractive young woman could only be white. Goodwin girl image portrayed a healthy. Photograph courtesy of the Don T. and the new media of television. modest. but dressed only in a bathing suit (see Figure 5). the glamour girl image served to mediate moralists’ fears about debauchery. It also followed the race rules of the era. She shared nothing in common with the ‘bad girls’ of the 1950s whose erotic curiosity and use of drugs or alcohol sold paperback novels and B movies. innocence. and attractive woman.241. free alcohol and gambling in the otherwise conservative consensus of the Eisenhower years. musicians and entertainers who had been working their own separate entertainment circuits and clubs for decades (Figure 7). UNLV Special Collections. it was the only interracial resort in Las Vegas. a distinct color line existed. Walker Collection. When the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino opened in 1955. the innocent-looking. never nude. loose women. Interestingly. and powerful sexuality in a palatable form for public consumption.144. 1955. As in other forms of popular culture such as Hollywood movies. 126 . In the terms of the post-war racial consensus. Though short-lived.
The Stardust brought the first European-style production show. The mannequin of the early 1950s. Madame Bluebelle formed the troupe. contributed to the allure of the production and the showgirl image. 1955.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 7. UNLV Special Collections. yet tastefully distant figure emerged. nearly nude. sexually suggestive. The Dunes receives the credit for initiating the first nudity in its shows. the iconography of the glamour girl changed again. came of age. Their stature (they had to meet a height requirement out of heels) as well as the discipline established by their director. The Las Vegas showgirl. A more worldly. who wore a bodysuit to appear bare while remaining covered.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Downloaded by [86. the Lido de Paris.241. as we know her today. Near the end of the 1950s. but the production by Harold Minsky’s company styled a show after the French but in line with its own burlesque traditions. Showgirls at the Moulin Rouge Casino. The Tropicana followed with the Folies Bergère in 1959. sophisticated. was permanently 127 . Photograph courtesy of the Don T.144. one of many she selected and trained. known as the Bluebelle dancers. Walker Collection. to Las Vegas in 1958 as its featured entertainment.
as seen in Figure 8.’ 1978. and topless bars.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Figure 8.Joanne L. UNLV Special Collections. Showgirl Sue Johansson. ‘Casino de Paris.144. 128 . an era that institutionalized Playboy Clubs. skin magazines. In the hedonistic 1960s and 1970s. Women participated as producers and consumers of the image. Photograph courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau Collection.241. Not only did they perform as ‘perfect women. it was easy to perceive the Las Vegas showgirl as one and the same.’ but they also consumed the ideal and supported its beauty culture. The casino promoters used sexuality and the presentation of the female body to draw in the heterosexual playboy or those who fantasized about being one. Goodwin replaced by the nearly nude showgirl who carried more fabric in her headdress than she wore on her body. Downloaded by [86.
Like Liberté. the female icon of the French Revolution. Out of costume. while performing the icon of western European beauty. borrowed. Conclusion One of the premier hotel properties on Las Vegas Boulevard declared on the cover of a recent annual report. or leased disposable income.’ The theme continued in its message to shareholders: ‘When we dream. innocent beauty. She welcomed visitors to Downloaded by [86. for that moment.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 129 . these performers were not remarkably different in appearance from other tall and fit women. the dream-makers offered tourists a chance to embrace their perception of an egalitarian and classless American society by mingling movie stars and ‘reputed’ mobsters with all-American families in a resort destination that offered something for everyone. It also reflected the race and gender systems of power in post-war culture. the health and well-being of the nation. or Ameríca.241. the symbol of the USA. Not only did they portray this character.144. gamblers and professionals who made Las Vegas the phenomenon that it is understood the power this dream had in Americans’ consciousness and continually updated it. The entrepreneurs. however. and to celebrate their days off from work in glamour and security. or walk the dog. Dreaming allows us to transcend reality. In costume and on stage. They understood at the end of the night that the image came off as the performer removed her make-up and costume and went home to buy groceries. We Make Dreams. she imagined that through that image she had control and power. By creating a resort destination out of a spot in the Mojave Desert. we escape to a world outside of our everyday lives. to be calmed when we need to relax or to be thrilled when we need excitement. Her appearance as a white. they projected an image recognized as a cultural icon of idealized beauty. promoters first used the image of a youthful. to exult in a newly earned. However. Anglo-Saxon Protestant maintained the ideological consensus of normalcy. Like the showgirls interviewed for our project. the icon of the innocent glamour girl represented the democratization of American capitalism. they saw the image as empowering. To sell the dream.’ The dream created by casino owners of the late twentieth century touched upon a deeply cherished belief of a century earlier – the pursuit of the American Dream. They capitalized on Americans’ desire to escape the tensions and scarcities of the War. They report that they are not bothered by their objectified beauty. ‘Life is What You Make It.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Contemporary interviews with former showgirls emphasize their positive views on the use of nudity in the performance. take care of children. They took advantage of the post-war leisure economy. many enjoyed the power it represented.
The sex and race segregation in jobs and housing shocked many. We have tried to interpret the themes within their stories without romanticizing or attributing false consciousness. Notes  For a sample of recent studies on Las Vegas. But those who stayed did so because they could do better in the tip-based tourist economy. women from all backgrounds moved to Las Vegas during and after World War II for the jobs in the expanding tourist economy. the tapes and transcripts will be made available to the public through UNLV’s Lied Library. The author and graduate students from the University of Nevada. When the research project is completed. Special Collections Department. see Eugene Moehring (2000) Resort City in the Sunbelt. The showgirl or performer knew the illusion she created as she donned the stage attire for an evening show.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Las Vegas to display their consumer superiority in pursuit of leisure and luxury. Theories of gender systems and the social construction of sexuality informed our interview questions. Betty 130 . Goodwin Downloaded by [86.  This article evolved from an ongoing project that documents the lives of women who came to Las Vegas to work in the gaming industry between 1940 and 1980.’ For the past fifty years. Knopf).144. 1930-2000 2nd edn (Reno: University of Nevada Press). See also. The cocktail servers knew their tips increased when they exposed more skin.241. and Sally Denton & Roger Morris (2001) The Money and the Power: the making of Las Vegas and its hold on America. Las Vegas conducted the interviews included in the Las Vegas Women: Oral History Project. The ‘change girls’ who walked the casino floor providing slot players with ready change knew the poor odds of a pay-off from slot machines. the women working in the hotel-casinos knew the difference between the roles they played at work and their private lives. They did not find the boundless opportunities portrayed in the fantasy illusions.Joanne L. 1947-2000 (New York: Alfred A. Why did some embrace roles that from our contemporary perspective appeared more limiting than expansive? Unlike the tourist visitors. But what did women who moved to Las Vegas want and why did they stay? Beyond the post-war iconography of white womanhood. Mike Davis & Hal Rothman (Eds) (forthcoming 2002) The Grit Beneath the Glitter: tales from the real Las Vegas (Berkeley: University of California Press). as did the context of post-1945 power and social relations. yet always wished their customers ‘good luck. despite the sex and race segregation. they played with gender to leverage their assets into a living. The depiction of women as limited or restricted within the world of domestic affairs during the post-1945 era is best described by Elaine Tyler May (1988) Homeward Bound: American families in the cold war era (New York: Basic Books). Las Vegas. The managers understood that their business success depended upon creating the illusion.
and Martha Watson. Women’s Research Institute of Nevada. GOODWIN is Associate Professor in the History Department and Director. 1-16 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press). and work in post-1945 Las Vegas.144.  For a study of the sex industry in Nevada. University of Nevada. 1945-1960. Her publications include Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform (University of Chicago Press. Judith Butler.  This perception was most recently captured by Rick Bragg (2001) The Era of Showgirls is Leaving Las Vegas. pp. see Barbara Brents & Kate Hausbeck (forthcoming 2002) The State of Sex: the Nevada prostitution industry (New York: Routledge). Box 455020.GENDER AND PERFORMANCE IN LAS VEGAS Downloaded by [86. her research interests have expanded to include gender. 131 .241.  Mirage Resorts (1998) Annual Report. She received her PhD in US History from the University of Michigan in 1991. p. my colleagues at the University of Nevada. sexuality. 22 March.  The ideas explored within this article were initially explored in a reading group with Barbara Brents. Kate Hausbeck. 2. Since taking her position at UNLV in 1991.  Joyce Marshall & Betty Bunch (1997) An Interview with Betty Bunch (UNLV: Women in Gaming and Entertainment Oral History Project). and Michel Foucault were particularly influential. Las Vegas. 34. see Joanne Meyerowitz (1994) Introduction: Women and Gender in Postwar America. Las Vegas.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 Friedan (1963) The Feminine Mystique (New York: Norton). p.edu). 1997) and articles on gender and US social welfare policy in the Journal of Social History and Gender and History. NV 89154-5020. USA (jgoodwin@unlv.  Claytee D.) Not June Cleaver: women and gender in postwar America. JOANNE L. The writings of Joan Wallach Scott. Las Vegas. A1. She is currently collecting oral histories of women who worked in the casino and entertainment industries after World War II. 1945-1960. White & Lucille Bryant (1997) An Interview with Lucille Bryant (UNLV: Women in Gaming and Entertainment Oral History Project). in Joanne Meyerowitz (Ed. For a critique of this idea generally and of Friedan’s thesis specifically. New York Times. 4505 Maryland Parkway.
looking at some of the radical social. Flame. miners strikes of 1972 and 1974.demon. We are interested in articles both from researchers and those active themselves. punk/new wave.51] at 17:27 25 August 2011 132 . e. radical political groups.241. The kind of areas we are interested in include the Women’s Liberation Movement.144. Ireland. trade unions. factory occupations. Downloaded by [86. We also hope to run a series of shorter autobiographical accounts entitled My Seventies in which those submitting the most embarrassing photographs of fashion crimes will get published. For more information please contact: Michael Herbert +44 (0)14547 838885 or michael@mossleybrow. anti-fascism.co. radical drama and much more.g.uk. squatting. Goodwin North West Labour History Journal As a follow-up to its 2001 issues on The North in the 1960s the North West Labour History Journal intends to publish an issue in 2002 on The North in the 1970s. political and cultural movements of the decade.Joanne L.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.